Tuesday, October 27, 2009

iPhone 3GS 16GB Comes Back from the Dead

Last night, my iPhone 3GS 16GB died! 

The battery was about 40% charged when I last looked at it.  A few minutes later, I hit the home button to turn the screen on, but it was just black.  I tried the On button on top, but nothing happened.  I tried holding down both buttons to reset it and nothing.  I finally plugged it into the wall and tried the same excercised, but to no avail.  Tried the same things again in 30 minutes and nothing.  Still the black screen.  I finally gave up and went to bed thinking that I have make a trip to the Apple Store this morning.

This morning, I heard a churp coming from the iPhone, which turned out to be a text message from my wife.  Somehow, it came back from the dead overnight and turned itself back on.  Is it a miracle or is my phone on its last leg?  It's only 3 months old so I hope if it's going to die, it will do it while under warranty.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Windows 7 Upgrade for New PC -- Be Very Careful of Dell

Last month, I purchased a new PC from Dell with Windows Vista Home Edition thinking that I will upgrade it to Windows 7 as soon as it's out. A few weeks earlier, I had purchased a laptop with Windows Vista Premium Edition (64bit) and went to Dell's Windows 7 Upgrade website, registered the Service Tag and was promised the upgrade.

Today, with all the hype about Windows 7, I was reminded of the fact that I had not registered my desktop for the upgrade so I went to do it on Dells' web site. First of all, the site was extremely slow and finally when I was able to login, I entered my Service Tag and associated information. The site kept saying that it could not find the Service Tag in the database and that it might take up to 10 days from the purchase date for it to show up in the upgrade database. This was not my problem since this PC was purchased just a little over a month ago.

Now, starts the Dell Support nightmare. First, I start a chat session with a support rep god-knows-where. After 10 minutes of digging, he tells me to call an 800 number (my worst Dell nightmare). At this point, I really didn't have much of a choice so I called the 800 number. After finally getting a hold of someone, he did more digging, but could not figure why my registration was getting rejected. He than transferred me to the third person. All of these people are very nice, but they're clueless and the problem never transfers so you have to start over again. I explained the story from the beginning to the third rep. Her immediate response was similar to the registration website that it "would take up to 10 days from the date of purchase." Of course, I had to repeat the information that I just gave her and make her look up the order to realize that it has been over 30 days since I bought it.

Finally, light bulb goes on! She says that I had purchased a Windows Vista version that is NOT eligible for the upgrade to Windows 7, which is Windows Home Edition! Well, that sucks since the PC was still in the box. I asked if I can return it, but the return period has just passed (30 days).

The support rep pointed me a note that's buried on the upgrade site (not the sales site), which states the following:

Note: Microsoft Windows Vista® Home Basic, Windows Vista® Starter Edition, and non-Bonus versions of Windows XP and Windows XP Professional do not qualify for upgrades to Windows® 7 under this program. Windows® 7 can only be upgraded to the same language version of Windows (e.g. English to English).

My recommendation: This recommendation is a bit late as Dell is already shipping PCs with Windows 7, but if you encounter another vendor that's promising a Windows 7 upgrade, do not purchase a PC without Windows 7 until Dell starts selling it. It's bad enough that you have to deal with an upgrade process and wait for the DVD to show up and risk incompatibility and driver issues. Your PC may not be eligible for the upgrade at all!

Update (11/8/2009): I just checked the status of my earlier upgrade order on Dell's website and it seems that the expected shipping date is 12/1/2009.  Keep in mind that Microsoft released Windows 7 on 10/26/2009 and was certainly released to manufacturers such as Dell much earlier.  This is an experience that I will not forget in cosidering future PC purchases around the time of an expected released.  Total disasater.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Anxiously Awaiting an Updated Apple TV

Yesterday morning, I got really excited when I heard rumors that Apple is getting ready to release new hardware for the holiday season. My first thoughts were that they were going to release an upgraded Apple TV, but alas, I was deeply disappointed to hear that the announcement was related to new Macs.

Apple: it's about time that you release a new version of the Apple TV hardware before we move on to another media player. The current Apple TV, while great, is starting to get old. I'm not asking you to turn the Apple TV into a DVR or add Blu Ray or do anything crazy. I've had my 160GB for over two years and 160GB is not what they used to be back then. You've upgraded the Time Capsule to 1TB and 2TB. How hard is it to add a bigger disk to the Apple TV? You've upgraded iTunes the iPhone software with Genius Mixes and other cool features such as Home Sharing. Your other hardware products now support 1080p.

The Apple TV is still being treated like a stepchild! It's time for an upgrade, even if it's a minor one.

Update (10/30/2009): Yesterday, Apple released the Apple TV 3.0 software update, which includes a new user interface, support for Internet Radio, Genius Mixes, simplified synchronization with iTunes, and photo enhancements (unfoturnetly, the photo enhancements are for iPhoto users, which excludes all PC users of Apple TV).  In addition to the Apple TV 3.0 update, Apple released an updated Remote app for the iPhone/iPod touch, and iTunes 9.0.2, which supports the new Apple TV software.  I'm very happy with the changes ,but still would like new hardware.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pocket HD Camera: My Buying Guide

I recently became in the market for a pocket HD camera.  With two young children running around and doing cute things all things, the video we are shooting just didn't look very good on large screen LCD TVs and I figured it was time to make the move to HD.

One of the first decisions that I faced was whether to get a traditional hand-held HD camera or a pocket HD camera.  Having purchased a Canon hand-held camera with DV tape over two years ago and having used it exactly once, the decision to go with a Pocket camera was fairly easy.  All hundreds of gigabytes worth of video clips that we had taken over the last two years were shot using a variety of Canon PowerShot cameras that are primarily use for taking still pictures, but since we have one of these cameras with us at all times, they really did a great job of serving that dual purpose, but because of quality, but primarily because of conveniece.

When I first started thinking about a Pocket HD camera, my thoughts went straight to the Flip UltraHD Camcorder or the Kodak Zi6 HD Pocket Video Camera.  These types of cameras were made very popular lately by their ease of use.  However, while I was doing my researched, I ran into a couple of new PowerShot digital point-and-shoot cameras that support HD video including the Canon PowerShot SD970IS and the Canon PowerShot SD960IS and decided to take a look at them.  Most of the buying guides that I had seen previously only compared the traditional so I had to compare those with the PowerShot multi-purpose cameras myself.




As with any product comparison process, the decision as to which product is most suitable for you depends solely on your actual needs.  The most expensive product might have the most features, but if you're only going to use 5% of those features, then there's no need to buy that most expensive product.

Making the Selection
The chart below summarizes the various features of the different camcorders/cameras I considered. The features that stand out are highlighted in green while the ones that I considered to be a disadvantage are highlighted in red.






Flip MinoHD Camcorder, 60 Minutes



Flip UltraHD Camcorder, 120 Minutes



Kodak Zi6 HD Pocket Video Camera



Canon PowerShot SD970IS



Canon PowerShot SD960IS


Retail Price

$199.99

$199.99

$159.95

$379.99

$299.99

Amaon Price

$168.99

$161.98

$127.82

$314.88

$259.95

Max. Video Resolution

1280 x 720 @30 fps

1280 x 720 @30 fps

1280 x 720 @60 fps

1280 x 720 @30 fps

1280 x 720 @30 fps

Max Still Camera Resolution

N/A

N/A

3 megapixel

12 megapixel

12 megapixel

Built-In HDMI Output

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Optical Zoom

None

None

None

5 x

4 x

Built-In Memory

4GB

8 GB

128 MB

None

None

Memory Card Support

None

None

SD/SDHC/MMC

SD/SDHC/MMC

SD/SDHC/MMC

Recording Capacity (in HD)

 60 min

120 min

Unlimited

Unlimited (43 min per 8GB card)

Unlimited (43 min per 8GB card)

LCD Screen

1.5 in

2.0 in

2.4 in

3.0 in

2.8 in

Dimensions

3.94 x 1.97 x 0.63 in

4.25 x 2.19 x 1.17 in

4.5 x 2.5 x 0.9 in

3.73 x 2.24 x 1.04 in

3.85 x 2.12 x 0.87 in

Weight

3.3 oz

6.0 oz

3.8 oz

5.64 oz

5.11 oz













As you can see from the chart above, each camera has it's own advantages and disadvantages.  Initially, I was attracted to the Flip minoHD camera because of its light weight and low cost. However, after comparing each of the advantages and disadvantages, I decided to get in a different direction. To help you with your own decision, see the summaries for each camera below.

Flip MinoHD Camcorder, 60 Minutes


Advantages

Disadvantages

Light weight.  At 3.3 ounces, it's pretty much the lightest HD camcorder
in the market today

Does not take still pictures, which means you have to carry another camera around

Low cost.  It's not the cheapest HD camera, but at $199.99 retail, it's
still very attractive from a cost perspective

Does not support HDMI output, which means you have to transfer the video to a PC,
burn it to a DVD or transfer it to an Apple TV before you can view it on an HD TV

 Easy to use.  Due to the limited focus, there are very few buttons on
this device and not a lot of menus to navigate

Does not support any external memory, which means that you have to unload the video
you shoot to a PC before you can shoot more video.



No optical zoom.  Although the camera supports minimal digital zoom, that is
pretty much worthless as digital zoom takes away from the quality where optical
zoom relies on the lens to zoom in



Small LCD screen.  At 1.5 in, that's the smallest screen possible and doesn't
show much details


Flip UltraHD Camcorder, 120 Minutes


Advantages

Disadvantages

Decent size built-in memory.  At 8GB, that's much bettern than 4GB, but
I still wish that they added support for external memory cards as well.

Does not take still pictures, which means you have to carry another camera around

Low cost.  It's not the cheapest HD camera, but at $199.99 retail, it's
still very attractive from a cost perspective

Does not support any external memory, which means that you have to unload the video
you shoot to a PC before you can shoot more video.

 Easy to use.  Due to the limited focus, there are very few buttons on
this device and not a lot of menus to navigate

No optical zoom.  Although the camera supports minimal digital zoom, that is
pretty much worthless as digital zoom takes away from the quality where optical
zoom relies on the lens to zoom in

Built-in HDMI support, which allows you to watch video directly from the camera
on your HD TV set

Heavy.  At a whopping 6 ounces, it's twice as heavy as its minoHD sister
camera and the heaviest camera in the lineup


Kodak Zi6 HD Pocket Video Camera


Advantages

Disadvantages

Low cost.   At $199.99 retail, it's still very attractive from a cost
perspective

Still pictures are low quality, but it's better than nothing

Light weight.  At 3.8 ounces, it's one of the lightest HD camcorders around

At 128 MB internal memory, I'm not sure why this was added.  You can only
shoot a minute or two worth of video before the internal memory fills up.
Luckily, the this camcorder supports external memory, which makes your shooting
ability limitless

Easy to use.  This camera tries to copy some of the Flip line features and
doesn't a decent job at that.

No optical zoom.  Although the camera supports minimal digital zoom, that is
pretty much worthless as digital zoom takes away from the quality where optical
zoom relies on the lens to zoom in

Support for external memory cards

Does not support HDMI output, which means you have to transfer the video to a PC,
burn it to a DVD or transfer it to an Apple TV before you can view it on an HD TV


Canon PowerShot SD970IS
&
Canon PowerShot SD960IS


Advantages

Disadvantages

Combines a decent HD camcorder (1280 x 720) with a high-end still picture camera
(12 megapixels).  This is great while you're on the road as you don't
have to carry two individual cameras for video and still images

Almost twice as heavy as the low-end stand-alone HD camcorders

Includes an optical zoom, which gives you the ability to zoom in without compromizing
the quality of the video or the still image

Expensive.  Almost twice as expensive as the low-end stand-alone HD camcorders

Built-in HDMI support, which allows you to watch video directly from the camera
on your HD TV set

No built-in memo

Support for external memory cards, which gives you virtually unlimited capacity
to take videos.  This is extremely useful when traveling without your PC.
You can purchase several SD cards and replace them in seconds as they fill up.

After a lot of consideration, I picked the
Canon PowerShot SD970IS
because it met all of my needs for both video and still images and the fact that it was expandable in terms of the amount of recording that you can do and HDMI connectivity. Your needs may be different and a basic HD camcorder might suffice if you don't care as much about still images or expandability.

Finally, I would like to point out a few other cameras that seem to have very nice features, but I did not consider them for this review because I'm not familiar with the brand or its quality. For example, the Aiptek A-HD 720P 8 MP CMOS High-Definition Camcorder (Black) takes 1280 x 720 and 8 megapixel images for less than $100 and its sister camcorder the Aiptek Action HD GVS 1080P High Definition Camcorder with 5x Optical Zoom (Silver) takes even better HD vidoe at 1280 x 1080 and has an optical 5x zoom for less than $200.

In the end, we all have our preferences and sometimes, you pay a little extra for a brand you trust. Is it worth it? I'm not sure, but I love my SD970IS camera so far. Most the video has been transferred to an Apple TV and everyone is always impressed that the high quality video we're watching came from that tiny little camera.